Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Yes! . . . There is a Santa

 We had all gathered for our annual Christmas Eve festivities. The house was decorated with the sights and sounds of Christmas – a green tree with ornaments and decorations in shades of beige. Garland adorned the railings and the walls. Christmas music floated from iPod dock. We were laughing and talking, stuffed from eating enough food to feed the block. There was the traditional fare of turkey, dressing Mac & cheese & string beans & so much more. There was something to please even the pickiest palettes.

While we were anxiously waiting to play what we’ve come to expect as a hilarious game of the white elephant gift exchange, my sister and her friend, both retired teachers were weaving this elaborate tale of how Santa manages to see children all over the world in a single night! The adults were laughing at the absolute absurdity of their story, but the children were enraptured! They had been tracking Santa on the iPad, and he was in Canada headed to the United States.  My nephew told us that Santa sent him an email. I shook my head because even Santa had to get with it and move into the digital age.

Their bizarre story had something to do with Santa being able to protect the reindeer as he traveled through the sound barrier. And because he traveled through different time zones it was possible for him to see all the children in one night! It didn’t hurt that he also traveled faster than the speed of light, and that he had the help of an elf in every state.  I laughed at the silliness of my sister’s story, and went home with it in my head. I woke up with the story on my mind-- thankful for its true meaning. Their story represented innocence. It represented faith. It represented good will.

I thought about the various ways I saw children preparing for Santa’s visit. There were of course the numerous pictures of children posing with Santa, but there were also the Official Zay Zay and Jo Jo videos, a picture on Facebbook of siblings praying over the cookies they baked for Santa, and of course the tracking of Santa on the iPad. 

Every year the postal service actually gets hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa, and there are people who adopt children to make their Christmas wishes come true. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Letters to Santa program. In lieu of Christmas gifts this year, my family chose to sponsor a family in need. This whole week I’ve been constantly reminded of the countless ways that people bring joy to the less fortunate during the holiday season.We may not be fat, white men with beards in red suits, but we are Santa. 

In a time when there is so much ugliness in the world, children deserve to have something magical. We all do. What's wrong with that?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hooks Elementary

Friday, December 14 started out like any other day. I'd been tired all week, but I knew at the end of this school day that I'd be on vacation until the new year. We were having holiday parties, and middle school students were either going on a field trip (6th grade) or going to a dance in the afternoon (7th & 8th grade).  The energy in the building crackled like a November bonfire.  
Students in my 8th grade writing class were bouncing off the walls. So I had them decompress by journaling while listening to soothing music. Everybody was smiling. Happy. Excited. Little did I know that in a small town in Connecticut, a deranged gunman was spraying six and seven year-olds with bullets.

During lunchroom duty, while I was making sure that meatballs didn’t take flight or cupcake icing doubled as make-up, murder and mayhem was erupting in Sandy Hooks Elementary School. When I first learned of the shooting, I couldn’t watch it or read about it. It was too close to home, and unbelievably scary. I teach in an elementary school prek to 8th, and I know the vulnerability of being in a public space charged with the safety of children. 

So while I was ushering children out of the building for winter break, I didn’t want to know what went so horribly wrong that some depraved person would open fire on children in classrooms. I couldn't wrap my mind around the reality of it as I scanned the faces of the students that I see every day. I couldn’t imagine me or my colleagues being gunned down in our school—a place that supposed to be a safe haven.
We do disaster drills of all types, and I’m constantly stressing to my students the importance of following directions and taking the drills seriously because I take the safety of my students seriously. Parents send their children to school in good faith that their children will be there waiting for them at the end of the day. But on Friday a sicko in Conneticut shattered that faith. 

About two years ago, I was in a school where we were doing a lockdown drill, and it was ironically on the same day that there was shooting outside a school in Mexico and the teacher kept the children safe and calm singing the Barney song. The gunman that seemed so far away that day is too close for comfort now.
I have been to the funerals of my students and it is heart wrenching. Earlier this week, I asked my students to write about where they see themselves in 10 years, and one wrote dead and another said in jail. My students are in 7th and 8th grade. They see no future. The students in Connecticut were in kindergarten and first grade; their future was snatched before it even started. Children deserve the chance to grow up, but how do we prevent our children from becoming part of the carnage in an increasingly violent and dysfunctional society?

Friday, December 14, was our last day before break, a time to enjoy family friends and refresh for the new year. But for the families of 27 people in Connecticut it was their last day of life. Can someone tell me how to deal with that?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Little Spice in Your Life

I am my mother’s child; I love food. I am not my mother's in that I do not love to cook good food. I grew up on freshly prepared meals made from scratch. So, I appreciate the rich, savory taste of food well-cooked food. But I’m happy with someone else being in the kitchen.

When I got in high school, I fell into the habit of eating fast food. And my mother warned me about always eating out of a greasy bag. I slowed down on the fast food, but not dining out. I just upgraded my dining experience. I spent lots of money on meals. Hung out with my friend Denial and thought I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I worked out. Wrong!  I remember this guy telling that if I was working out I, but I wasn’t eating right I was fighting myself. His words found a permanent parking space in psyche. It didn’t change my dietary habits, but the words didn’t budge.

I was loving some food and it was loving me back! So much in fact that it wouldn't leave me. And truth be told, I didn’t want it to go anywhere because I wasn’t doing what I needed to do to part company. But back in the spring, I decided it was time to make a change, and I needed an intervention. So, I joined Weight Watchers. I’ve lost more than 30 pounds, and I still like to eat out! And lo and behold, the God of Good Food was listening to my prayers. She said that I didn’t have to starve myself all day to dine or nor did I have to stick to the b-o-r-i-n-g bland low calorie options. She knows I like to taste of food on my tongue.
So, she led me to Bombay Spice Grill and Wine – a restaurant devoted to healthy Indian food. A friend and I went before I joined WW, and I enjoyed it. A group of us were going out one evening, and I suggested Bombay Spice. Since joining WW, I have gotten into the habit of planning my meals. I know what I’m going to eat, and how much it’s going to cost me. So, you can imagine the size of the smile on my face when I found out that not only did Bombay Spice boast a healthy menu, they had the Weight Watchers point values listed online. I was in heaven!
The food is satisfying especially if you like a little spice in your life. The appetizers are great to share which means I use even fewer points. I love the chef’s surprise where you choose ingredients and a sauce and allow the chef to prepare your meal. There are vegetarian options. It has nice ambiance and is perfect for a Girls’ Night or a couple's outing. I have a new attitude about food, and Bombay Spice Grill and Wine fits perfectly into my new lifestyle.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Divided States of America

We are a nation divided. Split– along racial lines, gender lines, class lines, sexual orientation lines, political party affiliation lines, generational lines and moral lines. In the closely contested presidential race of 2012, regardless of who won, we knew there were going to be bitter, angry people on the other side. And now that the election is over, it is time for us to move forward as a nation unless we want to perish as a nation. We are fractured. We are broken. But we are not beyond healing. For us to move forward we must stand in the shoes of those we oppose. 

We must push past what we believe to be true, to understand there is not only one Truth, but many Truths. Though America is the land of many opportunities it is not the land of equal opportunity. The perks of privilege do pay, and give some of us a hand up. And though it may be difficult for some to get ahead, it is not impossible. We must understand that the fruition of dreams can happen to the least of us if it’s what we really want and are willing to work to get it.

We must understand that issues are not stark lines of black or white, but muddied shades of grey. Who are we to impose our beliefs and values on others? Is there a way for us to get along even when we don’t agree? We need to recognize that differences make us unlike, not better or worse. We need to understand that beneath those differences we still share basic human needs. We need to work, to have health insurance, to get an education and to enjoy our lives. 

We are not White Vs People of Color, Men Vs. Women, Rich Vs the Middle Class Vs the Poor, Straight Vs Gay, Democrats Vs. Republicans, Elders Vs Youth and any other superficial lines of division. We are the sum of our parts – not the parts. We must understand that no group is going to get everything that they want. We must compromise. We are split, and that which is split eventually breaks into. Is that what we want?
The next four years are going to require the work of all us to begin to repair the damage done over the years. America is changing. What will you do to gain a better understanding of those you think are different from you? The Divided States of America needs to truly become the United States of America. What are you going to do in your corner of the world to make that happen?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

middle of no where

I, (Bride/Groom), take you (Groom/Bride), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

For better or worse.. .That is what husband and wives pledge to each other when they take their vows. But how many of them actually think about and prepare for the worst? In writer, director’s Ava DuVernay’s film, middle of no where, it is the worse part of the marriage vows that Ruby finds herself facing.

When we meet Ruby, she is on the way to visit her husband who is incarcerated for the possession and sale of guns and is doing an 8 year bid. Ruby, a nurse, who has dreams of medical school puts her dream on hold to be the dutiful wife. It would be too hard to be in medical school and still visit Derek on the weekends and she doesn’t want to not be able to take his calls she rationalizes much to the dismay of both her mother and her sister.

Derek tries to get Ruby to go on with her life, but she refuses. She tells him that she’ll be there for him. Ruby keeps abreast of everything that’s happening with Derek. She reads through his file. She stays in contact with the attorney. She visits him every weekend and waits patiently by the phone for his calls. They can do this, she tells him. She has high hopes for an early release date.

But when she shows up at his hearing, new information sends her into a tailspin and she lands in the arms of, Brian,  a bus driver on whose route she rides every day. Ruby reluctantly agrees to go out with Brian, but she doesn’t tell him the whole story behind the wedding ring on her finger. She only says that she and her husband are separated.

Like Ruby, Brian is also wounded. He is separated from his wife, and doesn’t see any signs of reconciliation. So, he pursues not knowing her circumstances. Ruby struggles to make sense of life, but she stumbles to find her Truth—whatever it might be. She can’t seem to escape her past, and she has no idea what the future holds and she finds herself frozen with no idea how to break free of a life that’s holding her hostage.

This taut, slowly dripping across the screen like molasses film,  deals with the nuances of everyday life. It’s not about good guys and bad guys or even happy endings.  It is a film of culpability and vulnerability. It is about the messiness of life; and that in the midst of that messiness, life marches on.